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Formula 1’s new era begins in 2022 with new technical regulations set to see the return of ground effect cars aimed at making racing closer.
After a year delay to F1’s all-new aerodynamics package due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the long-awaited technical overhaul is set to arrive this season.
The changes have a lot to live up to. After a thrilling 2021, arguably the best F1 season in years, the new era has high standards to meet. But with this year’s fresh aero package designed to deliver closer and better racing, affording drivers more chances to follow and overtake, if the plans in place are executed as intended it could start a new golden era of grand prix racing.
F1 has also reduced the cost cap from $145m in 2021 to $140m for 2022 to make the series more economically sustainable and provide a more level playing field between teams.
The world will get its first glimpse of the new era at pre-season testing, when all teams will run the 2022 cars for the first time in the key preparation period before the season opener in Bahrain on 18-20 March.
Our artist’s impression of what a 2022 F1 car could look like. But what will the teams go with? Photo by: Matt Fiveash
When is F1’s 2022 pre-season testing?
Barcelona F1 pre-season test: 23-25 February 2022
Bahrain F1 pre-season test: 10-12 March 2022
F1 is splitting its two pre-season tests between Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and the Bahrain International Circuit, with each venue hosting a three-day test to add up to six full days of pre-season testing before the start of the season.
F1 has split the venues for both logistical and technical reasons at the request of the teams. Barcelona, the traditional venue for pre-season testing before the COVID-19 pandemic, is considered as the ideal test venue given its variety of low, medium and high speed corners plus long main straight, while its central European location makes it a short journey from all the F1 teams’ bases. Teams often fly new parts at short notice to the test and can minimise the travel time compared to other venues outside of Europe.
Conditions are also usually suitable and representative, with dry and sunny weather despite being colder than the temperatures F1 will be racing in for the majority of the season.
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For 2022 F1 will also head to the Bahrain International Circuit for the second test, rather than staying in Barcelona, again due to logistical and technical benefits. While the Bahrain track will provide a representative comparison to the Barcelona test, allowing teams to verify its early findings, it is also hosting the season opener – meaning teams won’t need to pack up and rush to the next venue in a short space of time.
AlphaTauri driver Tsunoda was a rookie in 2021, and used Bahrain test to familiarise himself with systems and procedures Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
What happens at testing?
As the name indicates, F1 teams are able to test their cars on the permitted days of track action and run any number of set-ups, parts and programmes they wish. Pirelli provides an equal number of each tyre compound to every team, usually enough to allow all teams to complete as much running as it desires, while the number of laps is theoretically unlimited within the hours the track is open.
While scrutineering by the FIA isn’t strictly enforced as the tests aren’t held under grand prix conditions, all normal safety requirements must be followed for running the cars on track as set out by the FIA regulations. F1 teams could, in theory, run a car that is safe but not legal. However there would be minimal benefit in this as the teams wouldn’t be able to use the car in the same specification or set-up in a race weekend.
Outside of that, F1 teams are permitted to design their own test programmes, including run plans, tyre usage, fuel loads and which of its drivers test the car – including reserve or test drivers who will not compete in the upcoming season. Teams are only able to run one car though, meaning that any drivers they want to use will have to share the car.
Can I watch pre-season testing?
Currently, F1 will not live broadcast the first test from Barcelona on TV, but plan to live broadcast the entire second test from Bahrain. The Barcelona test will be a behind closed doors event with F1 intending to broadcast a daily round-up show from the circuit.
The Bahrain test will be broadcast on Sky Sports F1 in the United Kingdom and Ireland, plus on F1 TV in territories where it is available.
• Bahrain F1 test: 10-12 March
• Channels: Sky Sports F1 (UK and Ireland only)
• Start time: TBC, each day 10-12 March
Motorsport.com will be running a live text commentary on both F1 pre-season tests from Barcelona and Bahrain.
The world’s media will be present for testing in Bahrain, where there will be live TV coverage Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Are the testing times realistic?
As the cliche goes, it is only testing, so all lap times must be taken as a rough guide rather than the definitive pecking order for the F1 grid. This is because all teams prefer to hide their own full performance capability until the first qualifying and race of the season, in order to hold a potential surprise pace advantage. This is commonly known as sandbagging.
The lap times from testing are also obscured by a multitude of variables, including different fuel loads, different engine modes, different tyre compounds (some of which may not be permitted to use at the same track during its corresponding grand prix later that season) and tyre life, plus the variable weather and climate conditions.
Equally, some teams may opt for a ‘glory run’ to top the times towards the end of a day or test to grab the headlines, effectively increasing performance in relative comparison to its rivals.
Are these the final cars for 2022?
For all teams the answer will be no. On the chassis and aerodynamics, upgrades or changes will be made almost constantly throughout testing and the opening rounds as teams unlock more performance.
On the engine side, all power unit manufacturers will go into a development freeze for 2022, meaning the specification of each power unit component will remain the same when they make their final choice at the first round. Manufacturers will be able to change specification as much as they like during testing as long as it follows the technical and safety regulations.
A crash in testing can have a disastrous impact on preparations Photo by: Andrew Hone / Motorsport Images
What happens if someone crashes in testing?
A driver that crashes in testing will experience the same situation as if they crashed in any other session but the consequences could be much more serious depending on the scale of the shunt.
Teams will probably have fewer spare parts of the same specification while testing as they are being changed or upgraded frequently – which is likely to be a key challenge with the new cars for 2022. If a driver crashes heavily and breaks a key part, the team will lose valuable testing time and more than likely have to totally revise its test programme.
Pierre Gasly felt the full force of a costly pre-season testing crash in 2019 for Red Bull, when his high-speed off damaged multiple new parts key to the team’s development programme. The crash also dented his confidence which would lead to a performance dip and his eventual relegation back to the sister Red Bull squad Toro Rosso (now called AlphaTauri).
Previous F1 testing results vs winners
Here’s a look at the F1 pre-season testing results over the last 10 years followed by the equivalent pole position time at the same venue later that season.
This can only be taken as a rough guide due to the various different tyres compounds, fuel loads and conditions each lap time would have been set on when you compare fastest test lap time to pole position lap time.
Year Circuit Driver Team Fastest test lap time Driver Team Pole position lap time 2021 Bahrain Max Verstappen Red Bull 1m28.960s Max Verstappen Red Bull 1m28.997s 2020 Barcelona Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m15.732s Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m15.584s 2019 Barcelona Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m16.221s Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m15.406s 2018 Barcelona Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m17.182s Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m16.173s 2017 Barcelona Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m18.634s Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m19.149s 2016 Barcelona Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m22.765s Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m22.000s 2015 Barcelona Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m22.792s Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m24.681s 2014 Bahrain Felipe Massa Williams 1m33.258s Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m33.185s 2013 Barcelona Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m20.130s Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m20.718s 2012 Barcelona Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m22.030s Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m22.285s